8 Best Native Plants for Birmingham

Birmingham is a southern hub for music, art, and history and home to some of Alabama’s most desirable native plants. Many homeowners prefer native vegetation because it’s low-maintenance and beneficial to the ecosystem. In addition, native plants attract more birds and butterflies. But the best native plants for Birmingham are also favored for their beauty and utility.  

In this article

  1. Oakleaf Hydrangea
  2. Southern Sugar Maple
  3. Wavyleaf Purple Coneflower
  4. Largeflower Tickseed
  5. Flowering Dogwood
  6. Pussytoes
  7. American Chestnut
  8. Yellow Honeysuckle

8 Best Native Plants for Birmingham

1. Oakleaf Hydrangea (Hydrangea quercifolia W. Bartram)

Green oakleaf with some white flowers

Photo Credit: David J. Stang / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 4.0

Alabama’s beloved oakleaf hydrangea has been the state’s wildflower since 1999. Its white flowers bloom in the spring, then turn rose in the summer. Come fall, the native shrub’s green oak-shaped leaves turn a beautiful deep burgundy, and its flowers remain until mid-winter. 

Oakleaf hydrangea grows quickly, attracting deer and pollinators. It resists most pests but may get an occasional spider or aphid. Overall, the shrub is attractive and easy to care for.

Plant type: Shrub

USDA Hardiness Zone: 5 to 9

Sun: Partial to full shade 

Soil: Fertile, moist, well-drained

Duration: Perennial

Foliage: Deciduous

Fragrance: Honey-vanilla

Bloom time: Springa

Water needs: At least 1 inch a week

Mature height: 6 to 8 feet

Potential hazards:  They resist pests, but sometimes get spiders or aphids and they are susceptible to leaf bright or powdery mildew. 

Maintenance needs:  Low-maintenance, only prune if the plant gets damaged or becomes overgrown. You may remove dead flowers.

2. Southern Sugar Maple (Acer floridanum)

The southern sugar maple makes an attractive street-side, specimen, or woodland tree. Its green leaves create a symmetrical oval that turns deep shades of yellow, orange, and red, making a spectacular fall display. Then, in early spring, the ends of its branches bloom clusters of small yellow-green flowers.

It has a strong bark that resists breakage, but sometimes it develops shallow roots. Thus, it’s best to avoid mowing the grass beneath them. Although it is too small to produce maple syrup commercially, southern sugar maple syrup isn’t any less delicious than its commercial competitors. 

Plant type: Tree

USDA Hardiness Zone: 6 to 9

Sun: Full sun to deep shade

Soil: Clay, loam, sand (prefers rich loamy soil)

Duration: Perennial

Foliage: Deciduous

Fragrance: Sweet and sometimes spicey, almond or cherry scent

Bloom time: Early spring

Water needs: Medium, High drought-tolerance

Mature height: 20 to 70 feet

Potential hazards: They can attract aphids, borders, and scale insects and are susceptible to diseases including leaf spot, tar spot, and verticillium wilt.

Maintenance needs:  Low-maintenance, only prune if necessary and only water in times of drought.

3. Wavyleaf Purple Coneflower (Echinacea simulata)

butterfly sitting on wavyleaf purple color cone flower

Photo Credit: PickPik

Wavyleaf purple coneflowers have showy pink and purple flowers that bloom in the spring and summer. Known for their beauty, the flowers feature long drooping petals with a dark center. Many gardeners use its freshly cut flowers in bouquets or dry the flowers to make tea.

This native herb is a top pick for wildlife lovers. Its sweet nectar attracts butterflies, bumble bees, and other pollinators, while its fruit seeds attract various birds. Although wavyleaf purple coneflowers aren’t prone to insect damage or disease, they may attract the Japanese beetle and they occasionally get infected by leaf spot. 

Plant type: Herb

USDA Hardiness Zone: 5 to 8

Sun: Full sun to partial shade

Soil: Well-drained, calcareous, loam

Duration: Perennial

Foliage: Deciduous

Fragrance: Light and sweet

Bloom time: June – August

Water needs: Medium

Mature height: 2 to 3 feet

Potential hazards:  Occasionally gets leaf spot and may attract the Japanese beetle.

Maintenance needs:  Separate clumps when overcrowding occurs.  Removing dead flowers isn’t required, but improves the plant’s appearance. 

4. Largeflower Tickseed (Coreopsis grandiflora)

Yellow Color Flower with blur background

Photo Credit: Pxfuel

Due to its beautiful bright yellow flowers, largeflower tickseed is common in Birmingham’s butterfly, rock, and wildflower gardens. In wildflower gardens, they are a delightful companion to wavyleaf purple coneflowers or black-eyed Susans. 

Because butterflies, bumble bees, and hummingbirds love its nectar, largeflower tickseed is great for Biringham’s ecosystem. It is also the perfect plant for homeowners with small children or pets because it’s entirely non-toxic. Additionally, it’s low-maintenance, requiring minimal care.

Plant type: Herb

USDA Hardiness Zone: 4 to 9

Sun: Full sun

Soil: Well-drained, sand, loam, clay

Duration: Perennial, biennial

Foliage: Semi-deciduous

Fragrance: Sweet, spicey

Bloom time: Summer and fall

Water needs: Drought tolerant, 1 inch per week

Mature height: 1.5 to 2.5 feet

Potential hazards:  Some people are allergic to tickseed.  They are susceptible to fungal diseases such as powdery mildew.  They may attract aphids, aster leafhoppers, or coreopsis beetles.

Maintenance needs: Low-maintenance, fertilize and deadhead to encourage robust blooms.

5. Flowering Dogwood (Cornus florida)

White color Flowring dogwood

Photo Credit: Eric Hunt / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 4.0

The flowering dogwood is one of North America’s most attractive native trees. In early spring, it blooms small yellow-green flowers surrounded by magnificent pink and white petal-like leaves. When the weather cools, its breathtaking fall foliage includes bright red, scarlet, and purple leaves above its uniquely patterned trunk. 

However, the flowering dogwood isn’t just coveted for its looks. You can use its hardwood to make household tools such as rakes and butcher blocks and its roots to make red dye. It’s also great for local wildlife, attracting birds and butterflies. 

Plant type: Tree

USDA Hardiness Zone: 5-9

Sun: Partial shade

Soil: Organically rich, moist, acidic soil  

Duration: Perennial

Foliage: Deciduous

Fragrance: Sweet floral

Bloom time: Early spring

Water needs: Low

Mature height: 15 – 30 feet, but can be up to 65 feet

Potential hazards: Contact with its berries give some people rashes.  It is susceptible to fungal diseases including powdery mildew and spot anthracnose.

Maintenance needs: Prune in early spring and fertilize during spring and fall.

6. Pussytoes (Antennaria Gaertn.)

Pussytoes flowers of whote color

Photo Credit: Jason Hollinger / Flickr / CC BY 2.0

Consider pussytoes if you’re looking for natural ground cover for a rock garden or pathway. The herb sprouts pollinator-friendly white and pink flowers in early spring. However, pussytoes don’t attract many pests and are left alone by most herbivores, including rabbits and deer. Although pussytoes resist most diseases, they may get root rot if overwatered.

Plant type: Herb

USDA Hardiness Zone: 3 to 8

Sun: Full sun 

Soil: Well-drained

Duration: Perennial

Foliage: Semi-evergreen

Fragrance: None

Bloom time: April – June

Water needs: Dry to medium, Drought tolerant

Mature height: 3 to 9 inches

Potential hazards:  If the soil is too moist, it can get root rot.  You may get an allergic reaction if you are sensitive to ragweed, daisies, and marigolds.

Maintenance needs: Low-maintenance, removing dead flower heads will improve the plant’s appearance. 

7. American Chestnut (Castanea dentata)

The American chestnut tree is a fast-growing, fruit-bearing tree with edible nuts. Although this native-American tree was once common, its population has dwindled since the introduction of the Chinese chestnut tree. When the Chinese chestnut tree came to North America, it brought a fungal disease called chestnut blight, killing billions of American chestnuts.

Although mature American chestnuts are almost extinct, several new seedlings flourish in Jefferson and Shelby. For centuries, indigenous people used its hardwood for building, its nuts for eating, and its leaves and bark for medicine. 

Plant type: Tree

USDA Hardiness Zone: 4 to 9

Sun: Full sun for nut production, but they grow fastest with 30% shade

Soil: Well-drained and acidic sandy or loamy soil

Duration: Perennial

Foliage: Deciduous

Fragrance: Organic

Bloom time: June

Water needs: Drought-tolerant, but they benefit from weekly to bi-weekly watering in times of drought

Mature height: 100 to 120 feet

Potential hazards: Although they are non-toxic, its berries contain berberine which is known to cause stomach aches.  It is susceptible to chestnut blight.

Maintenance needs: Remove damaged branches and portions that become infected by disease. Winter and summer are the best times to prune.

8. Yellow Honeysuckle (Lonicera flava Sims)

Yellow color Honeysuckle flower on plant branch

Photo Credit: PxHere

Yellow honeysuckle is a native vine with showy sweet-smelling flowers that attract butterflies and hummingbirds. Its orange and red berries are harmful to humans but a welcome treat to many birds, including songbirds and robins. Additionally, it attracts many small mammals.

This sometimes shrub-like climbing vine is often displayed on trellises, fences, and in bird gardens. In addition, yellow honeysuckle makes an attractive ground cover. 

Plant type: Vine

USDA Hardiness Zone: 5 to 8

Sun: Full sun to partial shade

Soil: Moist, well-drained clay, loam, sand

Duration: Perennial

Foliage: Deciduous

Fragrance: Sweet

Bloom time: May – June

Water needs: Medium

Mature height: 10 to 20 feet

Potential hazards: Its berries are mildly poisonous. 

Maintenance needs: Bark mulch helps to keep the soil moist and weed-free, and applying compost and organic fertilizer in the spring keeps it healthy. Prune yellow honeysuckle each year, around summer, to inspire growth.

How to Choose Native Plants for Your Birmingham Landscape

When choosing Alabamian native plants, please consider the following:

  • Sun exposure:  Before selecting a plant, ensure your yard has enough sunlight for the plant species to thrive. If you have many trees, consider plants that prefer shade.
  • Required maintenance:  Some plants require a lot of work to flourish. Thankfully, most native plants are low-maintenance, but some are essentially maintenance-free.
  • Wildlife: Native plants tend to attract native wildlife. If you like birds, choose varieties that support local birds. If you’re growing a butterfly garden, choose from Alabama’s pollinator-friendly native flowers. 
  • Toxicity:  If you have small children or pets, avoiding poisonous plants is best.
  • Landscape design:  Choose plant styles, colors, and proportions that compliment your landscape.

FAQ About Native Birmingham Plants

1. What makes a plant native to Birmingham?

Native plants naturally grow and evolve in Birmingham, and there is typically evidence that they were here before European colonization.  They are a fantastic low-maintenance landscaping Idea for Birmingham that also helps support the local ecosystem.

2. What are Birmingham’s best native plants for pollinators? 

Pollinators like nectar producing native plants, including:
• Hydrangeas
• Coneflowers
• Tickseed
• Flowering Dogwood 
• Pussytoes
• Honeysuckle 
• Buttercups
• Sunflowers

3. Are all non-native plants invasive?

Not all foreign plants are invasive. Invasive plants have the following qualities:
• Well adapted to the climate
• Quickly spreads
• Harmful to native plants and wildlife

4.  What are Birmingham’s most poisonous native plants?

Birmingham’s most poisonous native plants include:
• Eastern poison ivy
• Poison oak
• Hemlock 

5. What are the best grass types to compliment my native plants?

The best grass types for Birmingham are warm-season grasses including:
• Bermudagrass
• Zoysiagrass
• Bahiagrass
• Centipedegrass

Where to Find Native Plants in Birmingham

You can purchase Alabama native plants at the following shops:

  • Oak Street Garden Shop in Birmingham
  • Hanna’s Garden Shop in Birmingham
  • Wildflower in Wilsonville
  • White City Nursery, U.S. Alliance, Coosa Pines Corp. in Verbena

And you can view native plants at the following nature preserves and gardens:

  • Ruffner Mountain Nature Preserve
  • Birmingham Botanical Gardens
  • Turkey Creek Nature Preserve

In addition, Birmingham Botanical Gardens has a native seed exchange program for its members.

If you need help planning a native plant garden, consider hiring a landscaper. Experienced lawn care pros in Birmingham can help you maintain a lush lawn and flourishing garden beds. Instead of burdening yourself with lawn work, take that time to visit the McWane Science Center or take a stroll through Railroad Park.

Main Photo by: Pixabay

About Wikilawn

Wikilawn’s mission is to provide the best resources and information to help you enjoy your outdoor spaces the way you want. Whether you are a DIY, lawn-loving, gardening guru, or someone who wants help in picking a local lawn care professional, we can smooth your path to a beautiful backyard!

About Wikilawn

Wikilawn’s mission is to provide the best resources and information to help you enjoy your outdoor spaces the way you want. Whether you are a DIY, lawn-loving, gardening guru, or someone who wants help in picking a local lawn care professional, we can smooth your path to a beautiful backyard!